5 Ways to Be a Better Listener


 5 Ways to Be a Better Listener

    “The art of conversation lies in listening.” –Malcom Forbes

    “We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.” —Diogenes

    “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said” –Peter Drucker

    “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” –Ernest Hemingway

First, a little background information.  I enjoy and find it meaningful to provide tips and advice when it comes to stress and mental health.  Even though I’m not a licensed counselor, I’ve coached, trained, taught, and mentored 100s of people and have studied psychology and mental health for over 15 years, so I’ve become proficient in the area. 

Two of the biggest issues that drive mental health and stress in our day and time are neuroticism and narcissism, which I’ve written about quite a bit. Our culture, with it’s emphasis on momentary “happiness” and “self-fulfillment” promotes these two things as the standard way of being for most of us.  Our comedy and most of our counseling for anxiety and depression is about neuroticism, and our obsession with media and technology, along with consumerism, pushes us all towards a posture of self-obsession.

Neuroticism is a tendency to overthink and to blur the lines between our reality and our thoughts, and can lead to anxiety and depression, whereas narcissism is a lack of boundaries,  general immaturity, selfishness, obsession with self, or a lack of a fully developed self into personhood with healthy values and boundaries.  

Neuroticism is characterized by worry, whereas ….

Narcissism is characterized by a draining, self-centered energy.  Narcissistic people are often very charismatic and likable, at first.  

From a book, The Culture of Narcissism, which impacted me quite a bit when I read it:

     “Our growing dependence on technologies no one seems to understand or control has given rise to feelings           of powerlessness and victimization. We find it more and more difficult to achieve a sense of continuity, permanence, or connection with the world around us. Relationships with others are notably fragile; goods are made to be used up and discarded; reality is experienced as an unstable environment of flickering images. Everything conspires to encourage escapist solutions to the psychological problems of dependence, separation, and individuation, and to discourage the moral realism that makes it possible for human beings to come to terms with existential constraints on their power and freedom.” 

Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations

One way to combat these two unhealthy tendencies, which probably affect all of us from time to time, is to become a better listener.  I’m convinced some of us either aren’t aware we aren’t good listeners, or we just don’t know how to listen.  I would like to be a better listener myself.  We can have much better and healthier workplaces, homes, and organizations if we would only listen better and really hear what the other person has to say.

Most people never feel heard.

We need to get out of our own heads, away from our own petty concerns, and our own negative habits and instead try to understand other people.  

As I heard someone jokingly  say, listening is not defined as “waiting until the other person shuts up so you can talk.”  On the contrary, it takes real effort. 

Being in a business where I have to talk and connect with people all day long has allowed me to develop my communication skills, though I surely have room for improvement.  These are the things that have helped me the most over the years become a better communicator:

5 Tips for Better Listening 

Ask More Questions 

When you’re talking with someone, ask them questions to get them to open up. You can even try the Socratic method: Keep asking more and more questions to try to get to the truth, which can often take some serious work.  If there is a lull in the conversation, ask a question.  If you haven’t seen someone in a while, ask them a question.  

Ask Open-Ended Questions 

Why? How? What do you think about…? Ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer, so people will be encouraged to share their thoughts and values.  This can create a good connection among two people and is helpful for negotiation and for trying to see the other person’s point of view.  It also creates stronger and more intimate bonds by finding things you have in common.

Repeat Back What People Say to Them

It is so common for us not to listen.  Because I’d say 80% of the time we are not listening to what others say, if you repeat back what someone says it will create a high degree of trust. Plus, reporting aloud what someone says will force you to focus on the present and on what the other person is saying.  That way when your mind starts to drift, you’ll be drawn back to repeating what the other person says.  If you make someone feel heard by repeating what they’re saying, they feel cared for, and this can help you achieve your goal(s), have healthier relationships, and become closer.  

Make Eye Contact

When you look away from someone, it communicates distraction.  When you look at someone and make eye contact, it builds confidence in you, the relationship, and the talker feels valued.  They are more likely to trust you and to want to hear what you have to say when it’s your turn to talk if you make eye contact.  

Be Active While You Listen

An interesting study I read years ago validated something I had experienced many times.  I always found it pretty difficult to sit still and listen.  This study showed that most men, unlike women, have a hard time listening while they are sitting still.  Men are better at listening while they’re doing something, whereas women are about the same either way.  This could be contributed to a tendency of men to be more physical by nature, or it could be due to a biological predisposition to goal-oriented behavior, versus “sharing of feelings” in men.  Regardless, try going for a walk, shooting pool, playing golf, or doing some work together while you listen to each other.  If men and women walked and talked together you could cut the divorce rate in half!  

Listening is a skill, and it takes practice to become good at it.  Give these 5 tips a try, and in 2017 we’ll all hear each other a little better. 

Read Next:  The 12 Commandments of Fitness

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